I have been noticing over the past few years that there seems to be increasing talk about about the need for government to be run like a business. By and large those who want to see the government run like a business seem to be focusing on the economic side of things and the profitability (or lack thereof) of various government sectors and programs. In fact, this seems to be one of the big rallying calls behind the relatively recent Romney presidential campaign. His business experience, and successes (which are essentially stories of maximizing profitability) seemed to be the center point of his campaign at times. Further, the economic inefficiency of Washington was a fairly prominent point throughout the republican primaries as well as throughout the presidential campaign.
People are fed up with waste and perceived inefficiencies and they want a change. Many are turning to the example of the free market, capitalism, and big business for answers regarding how to do things better. This is entirely a mistake.
Part of the problem, I think, stems from this false dichotomy between Washington and The People. These are, in theory anyway, not supposed to be separate entities. The government is, after all, “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Treating government like a business puts the citizens in the position of customers rather than shareholders. Part of the problem is that while we are, in essence all shareholders in this collective we call America, we are not shareholders in the traditional business sense. In a publicly traded company you can go out and buy as many shares of that company as you can afford and doing so gives you a voice in how that company is run proportionate to the number of shares you control.
In the United States of America we are all equal shareholders. All are expected to contribute proportionately based on their means. Despite differences in what various individuals contribute everyone gets one share, no more, no less. When you start thinking about the government as a business and worrying about profit you open the door to huge problems. Some programs and services should not only sometimes not be run to make money or break even but should be expected to run at a loss.
For example, the prison system and law enforcement in general. The fact that any money is made off of these things is sickening. Prisons should cost the citizens money to run and operate. It helps keep absurd incarceration in check. The same is true with regards to asset forfeiture in the drug war, what the serious fuck. Any money recovered in this fashion should be entirely allocated towards education and healthcare. None of it should go towards funding the departments seizing the money. The police are public servants and should only be funded 100% by tax dollars.
This is not to say that all government programs should be free nor is it to say that all government programs should be available to everyone. But to expect something like the healthcare system, in which the basic tenets of capitalism break down (“oh, your costs are too high, I will go 15 miles over to the next hospital treat my appendicitis, they are cheaper”).
The point is that there are vast areas of government expenditure in which it should be completed expected and understood that there will be zero return. This is the point of taxes. To fund the government and the programs and services put in place by the government for the people.